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134                                                                              B- POLEVOI
order:   "Not  to  be  taken  away",   somebody  sent him
"Have they gone crazy out there, or what, while on the
defensive?" he roared. "Kravtsov a bureaucrat? The best
veterinary surgeon in the army a bureaucrat? Grisha, take
this down at once."
And he dictated to Gvozdev an irate letter to a member
of the Army Military Council requesting that restraint
be put on the newspapermen who had undeservedly
thrown discredit upon a good and zealous officer. He
continued to scold "those pen-pushers" even after he had
given the nurse the letter to post, and it was strange to
hear those words of passion from a man who could not
even turn his head on his pillow.
That evening something more remarkable happened. In
that quiet hour when the lights were not yet on and the
shadows were beginning to darken in the corners of the
room, Stepan Ivanovich was sitting at the window,
thoughtfully gazing at the embankment. Some women in
canvas aprons were cutting ice on the river. They hacked
long strips of ice with crow-bars from the edge of a dark,
square ice hole, broke the strips into oblong blocks with
one or two strokes of their bars, and then, with the aid
of boat-hooks, dragged these blocks up the wooden boards
out of the water. The blocks lay in rows—greenish and
transparent below and yellow and crumbling on top. A
long train of sleighs, tied one behind the other, trailed
along the river-bank to where the ice was being cut. An
old man wearing an ear-flapped cap, wadded trousers and
a coat of the same kind girdled with a belt from
which hung an axe, led the horses to where the ice was
lying, and the women loaded the ice blocks on the sleighs.
Stepan Ivanovich's experienced eye told him that the
work was being done by a collective-farm team but was
badly organised. There were too many people on the job
and they only got into each other's way. A plan of
operations arose in his practical mind. He mentally
divided the team into groups of three—enough to drag
the ice blocks out of the water without difficulty. He then
assigned each group to a definite section and fixed the
pay not at a round sum for the whole team, but for each
group separately, according to the number of blocks they